Labour has defended its plan to tackle illegal immigration by striking a bespoke deal with the European Union after the Tories branded it an “open border policy”.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said the Conservatives were reduced to “talking garbage” because they had been unable to make their own approach work.

Sir Keir Starmer this week set out Labour’s plan for detailing with small boat crossings in the Channel, a key issue for swing voters in so-called Red Wall seats in England. 

Channel crossings have so far passed 23,000 this year.

The UK Labour leader said people-smuggling gangs would be treated like terrorists, and vowed to recruit an extra 1,000 Home Office caseworkers to clear the asylum backlog.

More than 175,000 people who have applied for asylum are waiting for an initial decision.

Labour said ending the backlog would let the Government end the use of hotels, barges and former military sites to house asylum seekers, which cost around £2billion a year.

On a visit to The Hague in the Netherlands on Thursday, where he met officials from Europol, Sir Keir promised to “smash the criminal gangs” profiting from small boat crossings using serious crime prevention orders which already restrict the movement of serious offenders like extremists and drug traffickers.

Most controversially, he suggested a deal with Brussels to let the UK return people who cross the Channel, provided the UK took a quota of asylum seekers arriving in the EU.

Despite the Tories mulling the idea themselves, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak claimed this could lead to 100,000 EU migrants coming to the UK each year.

Senior Tory ministers said that if a returns deal with the EU was in place last year, it would have forced the UK to take 124,614 so-called “illegal migrants” in 2022, as a population share of the 966,000 people who applied to the bloc for asylum last year.

But Ms Cooper said the UK would not join the existing EU quota scheme, under which countries must take an agreed share of migrants or be fined, as it was not in the EU.

She told LBC: “Unfortunately this is just Rishi Sunak making things up because his plan isn’t working to tackle the Tory boats chaos.

“We’ve always said that, yes, the routes need to be capped.

“We’re not talking about this European quota scheme at all. 

“We wouldn’t be part of that. That’s part of what the Conservatives have made up.”

However she said Labour would seek some form of returns agreement with other European countries if it was in Government, and that this would see “controlled and managed but safe routes for children who have family in the UK”.

Tory Home Office minister Chris Philp told Times Radio: “I think his policy has no credibility and the British public don’t want to see 100,000 of Europe’s illegal immigrants being shipped over here under Keir Starmer’s open border policy.”

Labour said it would also create extra court capacity to speed up asylum legal challenges, plus a new returns unit, again backed by 1,000 staff, to triage and fast-track removals in a bid to “take back control of our asylum system”.

Ending the Tory Government’s Rwanda deportation plan, currently held up in the courts, would also find money to spend on the proposals, Labour said.     

Besides the Tory criticism, Labour was criticised by TUC president Matt Wrack, who said Sir Keir was in “danger of pandering to right wing Tory rhetoric” on immigration.

Sir Keir will be in Montreal, Canada over the weekend for a summit of “progressive” politicians ahead of a visit to France next week to meet President Emmanuel Macron.

No10 downplayed the significance of the Paris trip, saying it was “not unusual”.